ADJACENT to Shannon Airport’s runway, The Honk Bar is in the rural townland of Rineanna in the parish of Newmarket-on-Fergus.
John and Mary Quinlivan run the bar, which has been in John’s family for a couple of hundred years. “We’re the eighth generation here; it’s been in the family the whole time. It would be one of the oldest pubs in the country, definitely one of the oldest in Munster.”
Born and reared there himself, John’s brother Pat also ran it, before John took over in 2001. “It’s part of the community. The local Community Alert was set up here; the few meetings that are on would be in here,” he says.
It may be relatively isolated but its location close to the airport means it is fairly well known, right around Clare and Limerick. John has been around the bar all his life and says the changes in pub culture have been drastic. “When I was a young fella, there would be cards on twice a week. There could be 10 or 12 tables; there could be 50 or 60 people playing cards. You’d struggle to get three tables now.”
People go to the pub far less now than was once the case, with younger people much less likely to stir out.
“There aren’t people going out every night of the week or every second night, or even once a week. Younger people; their mortgages are very big. The cake is only so big.”
The drink driving limits have been cut again and Minister Shane Ross wouldn’t be popular with many of John’s customers. “Oh Jesus, he’s getting desperate stick here. So much so that last night I said last ye were calling and some of them wanted to put up a banner saying ‘F**k Shane Ross’!” John laughs.
Ironically, people are afraid to either go to the pub or stay at home now, he says. “People in the countryside are fairly afraid now. They’re afraid to be at home in case they’re attacked; they’re afraid to come out in case they’re stopped.”
The development of Shannon has given Clare an economic advantage that very few other counties without a very large urban centre enjoy but there is little doubt that the country is becoming more centralised now.
John’s son works in the capital, while he says 18 others his age from the parish of Newmarket are also there.
“Why does everything seem to have to go into Dublin? It’s kind of sucking the life out of the country and they don’t seem to be doing anything about it,” he says.
The Shannon stopover was once a huge boost to the West of Ireland, before it was chipped away at and finally abolished, something John, who used to work for Aer Lingus, feels was down to pressure from Dublin interests. “When I started working first, two-thirds of the passengers coming from Boston used to get off in Shannon. There was a huge Dublin lobby and they stayed at it and stayed at it until they got what they wanted.”
In general, he feels the quality of work in the area is not what it was. “Shannon is becoming a low wage economy now. There was a big hurrah because Iceland came in there. Sure it’s Brown Thomas or something like that you want.”
Many of the highly-paid jobs that once existed have been abolished or transferred away, he says. “Definitely, the power of money is gone out of this area. There used to be great jobs in the airport and at De Beers; they were good. There now it’s all contract workers for low wages; all the jobs in the airport now are nearly minimum wage. Aer Lingus have about 20 staff there and they used to have about 250 and they were well-paid jobs. That’s a huge amount of money gone out of the airport.”
His wife, Mary, says she enjoys the interaction with the locals. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? You have the same few regulars coming in and it’s an outlet for them. It’s all dying off, though, a little bit.”
Are there things she’d like to see done to help pubs? “Like to see done? Get rid of Shane Ross. I’ll be quite blunt with you there. He’s a disaster!”
Getting out for a few drinks can be helpful in heading off social isolation, she believes. “It’s better than sitting at home on your own looking at four walls and talking to no-one.”
The couple’s two daughters, Sarah and Gráinne, were perched near the fire, having a quiet drink. Sarah is a teacher in Stonehall, while Gráinne is home for Christmas from Canada, where she has been for the last five years. “It’s [Canada] cold but it’s grand. This is my first Christmas home in three years.”
She says it’s the only pub she goes to when she’s back, while Sarah works there sometimes. “My husband ran pubs in Australia, so he works here on Mondays and some weekends. I chip in sporadically but he does most of it, to be fair.”
John’s brother Pat used to run the pub and he was also there, having a quiet pint. He remembers the atmosphere when Shannon was in its early days and a new community was finding its feet. “When I was a kid, Shannon was just starting and getting busy. When I was 10 or 12, in the late ’60s, people came from all over. On any given night, you could have people from all over Ireland. There was all kinds of accents and all kinds of people here. I suppose there was hardly any pubs around Shannon that time.”
Recent years have been harder for pubs, with strict enforcement of drink driving and lower limits, the smoking ban and the recession.On top of that, Pat says culture has changed. “The younger crowd are different as well. You wouldn’t see too many young lads in pubs now, the way older people used to go to pubs. They’re drinking at home and that kind of thing. It’s a different kind of a scene now.”